Game 1 of the NBA Finals was about as exciting as a fan could ask for. The Cavs-Warriors opener stayed close throughout the fourth quarter, featured an all-time great performance from LeBron James, and offered a dramatic sequence at the end of regulation, culminating in J.R. Smith’s epic gaffe, that NBA fans will remember for years.
But despite all that, metered-market ratings for the contest on ABC dropped slightly from Game 1 of the 2017 Finals, which Golden State won by 22 points. In fact, Thursday’s overnights were the lowest of any of the four Cavs-Warriors Game 1s. With help from Sports Media Watch, here are the respective overnights for each of those games:
2018 — 12.3
2017 — 12.4
2016 — 13.1
2016 — 12.9
The fact that a thrilling overtime game couldn’t eclipse last year’s Game 1 blowout seems indicative of the viewer fatigue that some expected would come with a fourth straight Cleveland-Golden State clash — particularly one that seemed to have a predetermined outcome. As our Ben Koo wrote earlier this week in predicting a dip in ratings:
I just moved from the Bay Area to Ohio and I can say that fans from both areas seem to have mild enthusiasm for this series, with the expectation that this might get to a fifth game. I’ll certainly watch some, but I’m not going to plan my nights around this series, and I think that’s the popular thinking.
Still, we’re not talking about a massive drop-off here, particularly as compared to last year. In fact, despite the slight decline, Thursday night’s Game 1 was still the fourth-highest Game 1 since 2002, per SMW, behind only the three other Cavs-Warriors matchups.
And even if the close score and tense finish Thursday weren’t enough to bump up Game 1’s ratings enough to beat last year’s number, the excitement could help ABC heading into Game 2, which airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET. Now that fans have seen the Cavs hang with the Warriors for 48 minutes, they might be less skeptical of the idea this series could remain close throughout. And now that they’re seen LeBron James put up 51-8-8 in a Finals game, they might want to be tuning in when he attempts to do it again.